After selling his company Netscape, Jim Barksdale and his wife, Sally, gave the largest gift ever to improve literacy, $100 million, to start the Barksdale Reading Institute at the University of Mississippi in 2000. The institute works with the Mississippi Department of Education, the state’s public schools, and its universities with the aim of improving the teaching of reading and increasing the literacy levels of Mississippi student in grades K-3. Finding cost-efficient progress elusive within the existing school system, the FRI in 2010 added a “principal project” which places new highly qualified principals in chronically underperforming schools, giving them wide authority over personnel, curriculum, discipline, grading, etc., and a mandate to improve the teaching of reading with special teaching and testing. Barksdale’s latest gift, creating the Mississippi Principal Corps at the University of Mississippi, builds upon this approach by producing an annual cohort of specially trained reform-minded principals. A 2012 gift by the Robert Hearin Support Foundation reinforced the program.
- Chester Finn and Kelly Amis, Making it Count: A Guide to High-Impact Education Philanthropy (Thomas Fordham Foundation, 2001) pp. 45-48
- News report on the shift to Principal Project, hechingerreport.org/content/in-mississippi-private-money-and-strong-principals-boost-struggling-schools_11189